Monday, April 30, 2012

Whither Liberalism?

I enthusiastically recommend to you these three articles from the latest issue of First Things"Liberalism After Liberalism" by Wilfred M. McClay; "After Progressivism" by Yuval Levin; "Sin's Political Lessons" by James R. Rogers.  The first by McClay sets the table for reaction and response from Levin and Rogers.  (Unfortunately, you have to be a subscriber in order to get the last two online.)

Their subject is of course liberalism, classic and contemporary, and they tackle in turn the issue of what it was, what it has become, how so, and where it's headed.  All three are extremely insightful as the latter two do not so much criticize as build upon McClay's argument.

Let me cut to the chase, or my chase anyway, and hopefully whet your appetite for them all (if you don't already subscribe to First Things, you should):  There is an important difference between what I'll call a liberalism of aspiration and a liberalism of humility.  The former, which is at the root of contemporary liberalism or progressivism, imagines individuals so free and autonomous as to be if not deities, then at least demigods.  The latter by contrast recognizes limits, limits formed by our being as creatures (i.e., not gods, not even potential gods) and even more importantly by our being as fallen creatures.  To achieve the maximum liberty possible, its near certain abuse must be constrained.  How it is constrained, of course, makes all the difference in the world. 

My sympathies are with the latter, which, as all three writers in their own way put it, is the liberalism of among others Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville, Publius, and, most significantly, the Bible.    

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